February 27, 2023

Steinberg’s MMQB: Appreciating McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s tenure in Toronto is one of the best feel-good CFL stories I can remember. I’m not certain the term “journeyman” applied to a professional athlete more aptly than to Bethel-Thompson prior to him landing with the Argonauts in May, 2017. Now, after five seasons in Double Blue, Bethel-Thompson is saying a difficult goodbye to the team and league that gave him more solid ground than ever before.

It didn’t take much analysis to determine how heartfelt Bethel-Thompson’s departure message was when he posted it on social media last week. The city of Toronto, the Argos, and the CFL meant the world to him. And the fact he contemplated his future as long as he did speaks loudly to how difficult this decision was for him. In the end, Bethel-Thompson is prioritizing family by signing with the New Orleans Breakers of the USFL. How can you begrudge that?

He leaves the CFL in grand fashion. 2022 was a banner year for Bethel-Thompson that saw him set new career highs in starts (17), attempts (579), completions (387) and passing yards (4,731). In his first year as an unchallenged starter, Bethel-Thompson delivered in the regular season before helming Toronto to a pair of playoff wins, including the 109th Grey Cup. I’m not sure he saw any of that transpiring when signing his first contract with the Argos.

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Think of the road Bethel-Thompson had travelled in the six years prior to joining Toronto. Between early 2011 and spring 2017, Bethel-Thompson had 12 separate stints on pro rosters encompassing eight teams, four leagues and two countries. For that reason, I’m not certain how long he expected to remain with the Argonauts…and who could blame him? Well, he ended up being associated with the organization for the next six years.

But even during that stretch, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Whether it was James Franklin or Nick Arbuckle, it was rare Bethel-Thompson didn’t have significant competition for playing time. He faced external questions about whether he could be the guy to lead Toronto to where they wanted to go. He just kept working, grinding, and earning the respect of teammates. After all, for Bethel-Thompson, adversity was just part of the regular routine.

I’m sad to see the guy go. Bethel-Thompson was an awesome story, a consummate professional, and a fiery competitor. But he departs the CFL on great terms and gets an opportunity to mesh his professional life with his family life a little better. I wish him nothing but the best.

The most interesting man

Thanks to a receiver-heavy off-season, all eyes will be on Taylor Cornelius when the Elks’ kickoff on June 11 (GoElks.com)

Edmonton has been busy since the start of free agency earlier this month. The Elks have concentrated most of their attention at receiver, as Eugene Lewis, Steven Dunbar Jr., and Kyran Moore have all joined Edmonton over the last couple weeks. With Dillon Mitchell and Manny Arceneaux back in the fold, the Elks have the makings of an elite group of receivers this season. As a result, that puts one player firmly in the spotlight: third year quarterback Taylor Cornelius.

Still relatively unproven in the CFL, Cornelius is one of 2023’s most interesting players and not just because of the star-studded group of receivers surrounding him. Cornelius enters the coming season with two seasons of work under his belt, an intriguing set of skills and some clear areas where development is needed.

For Cornelius to be the guy and bring Edmonton back to the post-season for the first time since 2019, we’re going to need to see improved decision making. In two seasons and 20 CFL starts, Cornelius has a 57.6 per cent completion rate and has thrown 20 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. The Elks are banking on more experience, more comfort with the playbook and improved confidence to help improve those metrics in 2023. An impressive array of receivers won’t hurt, either.

I don’t think it’s an unreasonable ask, though. While still making a name for himself north of the border, Cornelius put himself on the map thanks to his redshirt senior season with Oklahoma State in 2018. That year saw him throw for 3,978 yards and 32 touchdowns, both top-10 in the nation, against just 13 interceptions. Cornelius showed well in four wins over top-25 opponents and went head-to-head with future No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray in Oklahoma. The chops are there.

It’s important, however, that Cornelius doesn’t sacrifice the athleticism that makes him such a unique talent. In 12 starts last season with Edmonton, he rushed 71 times for 502 yards and seven touchdowns. It follows a pattern, as Cornelius ran for 406 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season at Oklahoma State. It’s a huge part of what he brings to the table.

With Edmonton’s stable of receivers for 2023, Cornelius is in a great spot to make significant strides. With his unique skillset and the opportunity in front of him, Cornelius is very much in the conversation as the CFL’s Most Interesting Man entering this season. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

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